Simplicity is a double-edged sword, and The Crystals’ ‘Twist Uptown’ is an album that epitomizes this contradiction of innocent purity with a borderline lack of imagination.
The ultimate strength in the case of this album is that Phil Spector was the man at the production wheel. Arguably no other producer in the history of pop music – aside from maybe Brian Eno – has brought such an amazingly unique style to the recording canvas. A tribute to his efforts, this album displays one of the earliest examples of Spector’s infamous ‘wall of sound’.
Perhaps the best example of the early Spector sound can be heard on the track ‘There’s No Other (Like My Baby)’ – in this writer’s humble opinion, one of the greatest tunes ever recorded, and overwhelmingly owing to Spector’s unique influence. We are led into the track by Barbara Alston’s smooth and relaxed voice. Then a short piano run leads to a crescendo of voices that should floor any functional human being with it’s raw emotive power, to the point of warm distortion.
As the track drops into the first verse, one notices the reverberating snare sound – ringing out in an era before anyone other than Spector would have dreamed of throwing the drum kit into an enormous hall to record it from a distance. This tune has such a cinematic quality in terms of width and spectrum of sound, that one has to wonder if these elements could have resulted without Spector’s distinctive involvement.
Other highlights include ‘Please Hurt Me’ and ‘Uptown’, both showcasing the incredible voices of The Crystals whilst further demonstrating the many strengths of Spector as a producer. ‘Please Hurt Me’ deals in low tones, subtle instrumentation, and a heart breaking lyric that is treated carefully, leaving space to be filled in by the character of Alston and co.’s vocals. ‘Uptown’ sounds like a Tarantino film with its plucky guitar and again displays Spector’s aptitude as a record producer – knowing when to leave space for every instrument to shine.
Although there is plenty to admire about this record, it’s the childish and relatively gutless nature to tracks like ‘On Broadway’ and ‘Gee Whiz’, that lower the level somewhat of ‘Twist Uptown’ as a complete body of work. They’re playful and corny, and they harken back to the smiling 50′s and a style of song that was frankly beneath Spector and The Crystals. There’s also a bit of recycling going on with ‘What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen’ when it rips off the opening phrasing and piano line from ‘There’s No Other’, suggesting that perhaps the songwriting for the album tracks was a rushed and prescribed process with the emphasis placed solely on the radio singles.
A few hiccups and slips into complacency aside, this record succeeded in bringing about the collaboration of Phil Spector and The Crystals – whom together, through ‘Twist Uptown’ and later releases, would deliver some of the most iconic pop singles in history and it definitely deserves some kudos for that.Posted: March 25, 2012